Aliens arrive in South Africa only to be forced into apartheid-like conditions by the corporation charged with their care, in this socio-political thriller from producer Peter Jackson. The TriStar release is nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan
Welcome to District 9 — Now Go Away
"District 9" is a sly mixture of film genres cinema verite, sci-fi adventure, corporate thriller, and an "Office"-like mockumentary relating the story of alien refugees on Earth residing in South Africa. Relegated to a shantytown in Johannesburg's District 9, the conditions under which the aliens live draw easy parallels with South Africa's apartheid past.
Humans' Heavy Hand
The alien creatures (nicknamed "prawns" because, as one character says, they look like prawns) have an affinity for cat food and antisocial behavior, and the humans in Johannesburg would like nothing more than to be rid of them.
Put Your "X" Here
MNU, a corporate security firm, is tasked with removing the refugees to a new detention camp outside of the city. Middle manager Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is placed in charge of the transfers. His bigotry toward the aliens is evident as he callously destroys the property of aliens that fail to sign their eviction notices.
The Real Horror
When Van der Merwe is infected with an alien virus, he undergoes a terrifying genetic transformation, which MNU scientists determine would allow the man to use alien weaponry technology that only alien DNA can operate. Van der Merwe is now trapped in an MNU experiment, and while his marriage to the boss' daughter might have influenced his promotion, it doesn't protect him from having his organs harvested by the same company.
Escaping the clutches of MNU, Van der Merwe finds his only safe haven is in District 9, where he must contend not only with distrusting aliens but also with Nigerian black marketers who have their own interest in Van der Merwe's DNA.
A New Rebel
Van der Merwe befriends "Christopher Johnson," a prawn who wishes to escape to his home world (possibly to return with reinforcements?). Helping Johnson is the only means Van Der Merwe has to cure his genetic affliction, and so he must fight government and corporate security forces to aid the alien.
As the two break into an MNU lab to retrieve a vital component for the alien ship, Johnson discovers that prawns have been subjected to medical experiments. Van der Merwe's mission, and the alien's trust, are now both in jeopardy.
Born in South Africa, first-time director Neill Blomkamp (right, with actor David James) was an animation and special effects artist who graduated from Vancouver Film School. After a film based on the "Halo" computer game fell through, producer Peter Jackson agreed to produce "District 9," which earned an exceptionally rare Best Picture nomination for the science fiction genre.
"Alive in Joburg"
"District 9" was inspired by Blomkamp's 2005 short film, "Alive in Joburg," which similarly tells of alien refugees in Johannesburg. Blomkamp shares writing credit (and an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay Adaptation) for "District 9."
Sharlto Copley (Van der Merwe) has produced and directed commercials, music videos and shorts, and appeared in "Alive in Joburg." He also directed the feature "Spoon" starring Rutger Hauer." After starring in "District 9" (his first feature film performance), Copley appeared as 'Howling Mad' Murdock in the feature film version of "The A Team."
"District 9"'s visual and makeup effects belie the film's meager $30 million budget, and are employed in an almost off-handed manner, grounding the fantastic story in something closer to realism.
While many of the alien effects were created via computer-generated imagery, makeup prosthetics were employed for Van der Merwe's transformation, requiring up to five hours a day in the makeup chair.
Director Neill Blomkamp, screenwriter Terri Tarchell and actor Sharlto Copley of "District 9" pose for the press at the 35th American Film Festival, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009, in Deauville, Normandy, France.